From the Breitling Chrono-Matic to the Zenith El Primero - how will Baselworld 2019 honour the birth of the automatic chrono? What other big launches might we see from favourite brands like Tudor and TAG Heuer?
2019 is likely to be Year of the Automatic Chronograph at Baselworld, since this is the fiftieth anniversary of one of the most celebrated moments in horological history. In early 1969, several major brands competing to create the world's first ever self-winding chrono all unveiled their success in a spectacular photo finish. The bards have waxed lyrical ever since, and we expect to find much reliving of the glory days in Basel this year.
But how exactly is this and other modern-day trends likely to manifest in new watches? Time for us to probe the possibilities for what we might see from our favourite brands at the world's biggest watch show of 2019.
You may not have noticed, but 2018 was a hugely significant year for Breitling. Coming under the leadership of Georges Kern, the aviator's brand showed watches at Baselworld that displayed bold new ideas. This included the Navitimer 8 and the Super 8, watches steeped in historic references that also managed to dramatically redefine our image of the iconic Navitimer, losing the slide rule and much other clutter. The Navitimer 1 cemented the new image with a remarkable 38mm case - tiny, by Breitling's standards, but aimed at both men and women. The company's new horizons widened in October with the launch of the reborn Premier, again demonstrating a meld of vintage inspiration with fresh design ideas - ruthlessly seeking younger, more modern customers.
While the great race for the first automatic chrono is often painted as a Heuer vs Zenith affair, we should not forget that the former brand was part of a collaborative five-way effort alongside Büren, Hamilton, Dubois Dépraz and, indeed, Breitling. We can thus make a fairly confident guess that the next watch in Kern's crosshairs for revitalisation may be the Chrono-Matic - the first Breitling watch to use the team's 1969 movement. There are several colourful examples in the archives that could provide inspiration here.
The company of driving watch legends, TAG Heuer has long been pulling itself in two opposite directions - towards veneration of its historic glories, and towards ultra-modern innovation. Recent years have seen a focus on the Carrera - the Heuer-01 movement at Baselworld 2017, and the Heuer-02 in 2018. Both were flagship-worthy timepieces that exhibit both sides of the TAG duality, with cutting edge tech married to historical homage.
We also saw delightful new Monaco models last year, and we expect to see more this time around. TAG Heuer may well continue spotlighting both Monaco and Carrera, as well as the fan-favourite Autavia, since they were the trio graced by the original Calibre 11 in 1969. Of the three, only the Monaco was an all-new series, so the square-cased beauty could take pride of place this year.
Today it's TAG Heuer's partner in LVMH crime, but fifty years ago Zenith was Heuer's fiercest competition. Both have stuck to their claim that they were the first to reach the coveted milestone in 1969, and watch historians have presented compelling cases for each side. Each brand has its own unique style and history, but in recent years - thanks to joint leadership under Jean-Claude Biver - they have exhibited certain similarities.
While much of its collection remains simple, classy and elegant, Zenith has also been showcasing ever more impressive technological accomplishments. Its Defy series was relaunched in 2017, and has boasted several stand-out achievements since then, including last year's stunning Zero G and Defy Classic. We expect more in this vein, pushing the boundaries of mechanical and material technology, and would not be surprised if Zenith manages to link such innovation to the Big Anniversary.
It feels like Tudor has been the toast of Baselworld for quite a while now, and never more than last year when it co-ordinated with senior partner Rolex to release a pair of long-awaited steel GMT watches with the iconic blue and red "Pepsi" bezel. Tudor's Black Bay version was less than half the price of Rolex's GMT Master II, even with its manufacture movement - an outstanding display of the Tudor commitment to provide the highest quality at much lower prices.
Some have predicted that Tudor will pivot away from sports watches in 2019, especially those that directly mimic Rolex, as it seeks to move out of its father brand's shadow. The November release of the Glamour Double Date seems to confirm this idea, and dressier collections such as the Style and the Classic could certainly use a refresh. At the same time, a recent Instagram post has been read by many to hint at the prophesied reappearance of a bona fide Tudor Submariner, possibly based on the 79000 series from the 80s and 90s. The big question is whether it will go for Mercedes hands (authentic) or snowflake (less Rolex-y).
Only one way to find out - join us at Baselworld for up-to-the-minute coverage of all these brands and more! Hope you're as excited as we are!
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